What is craft beer? This is a question that is vexing the industry as formerly small batch brewers grow and expand or big brewers make moves into the craft market via mergers, acquisitions, and brand extensions.
Take Blue Moon for example. To most people who occasionally drink beer it is a craft beer. It is not carrying the label of any of the big three—Miller, Coors, or Budweiser—and it is a style of beer that differs dramatically from your typical light American lager. However, for its entire life Blue Moon has been brewed under the aegis of Coors.
Colorado Native Lager is another product, like Blue Moon, that is brewed by a subsidiary under the aegis of Coors. This time it is brewed by the AC Golden Brewing Company—AC for Adolph Coors perhaps—which operates a brewhouse within the larger Coors complex in Golden—hence the Golden in the name.
The marketing gimmick is excellent. It is brewed only with ingredients from Colorado and it is available only in Colorado. Sort of creates the same mystique that Coors had in the 1970s when people would make road trips to the Centennial State in order to bring back a trunk load of the banquet beer. Can you imagine someone doing that now? We would think they were insane.
So, how does the beer stack up:
First off, I am less and less of a lager fan every day. Some people will claim that the lager style is simpler and that the lack of any overtones from the yeast allows the hops to shine through. I get none of that with lagers. The aroma that gets me is burnt or off in some similar way that I cannot place.
Second, this beer is sweet. Not cider sweet or Smirnoff Ice sweet, but sweet like a shandy without the lemon hit to balance the sweetness somewhat. There is no sugar in the ingredient list, but I would not be surprised if some honey from the San Luis Valley made its way into the fermentation vessel.
Third, for a beer that claims in its hop bill to have Chinook, Centennial, and Cascade there is very little discernible hop flavor or aroma. It is very muddled. Generally, Chinook is a very distinctive hop—especially when used for dry hopping—and the other two hops are distinctive craft brewing staples.
Last, it comes in those silly cans like Coors Light that have a slightly different geometry than any other twelve ounce can in the world. Why is this a pain? Try combining a twelve pack of disparate cans and discovering that some of the cans are just a little taller. God damn it.
Overall, the gimmick of being made in Colorado from Colorado ingredients and available only in Colorado can take the beer just a little bit beyond failure:
In the past I have been harsh to other “faux craft” beers because I think there is something much more to being craft than purely size. It’s an ethos that is separate from the mega breweries that gave us pale liquid sold more by girls in bikinis than the quality of the drinking experience.